Cesar Herrera is CEO and cofounder at Yuvo Health, a tech-enabled administrative and managed-care solution for community health centers.
A house is only as strong as its foundation, and the same can be said for a company. Turning an idea into a successful business is often made easier with more than one founding member, especially when the idea is complex and requires the experience and expertise of multiple individuals.
Early in my entrepreneurial journey, I knew the specific problem I wanted to solve and that I needed the right team to solve it. I didn’t just want experts; I wanted like-minded innovators who would be passionate about the business and would be active members of the founding team. I turned to mission-driven individuals with decades of specialized experience in their own fields of law, value-based contracting, and community and business development. What made us a successful team wasn’t the combined industry experience, but rather being deeply tied to the same mission. This is what keeps us grounded and aligned, even when we occasionally disagree.
A team of multiple cofounders brings the benefit of shared passion, diverse perspectives and vast expertise, which contributes to a more collaborative, purpose-driven team. The challenge, however, is that you have more than one person in a position of leadership. With multiple cofounders, you face the risk of clashing viewpoints and differing priorities. If you don’t establish roles, boundaries and expectations in the early founding stages, you can end up in heated disagreements, which can harm the relationship and the business itself.
Here are four ways I have found to effectively build more meaningful cofounder relationships.
1. Clarify the unifying vision for the company.
When starting a business, it’s not enough to create a service or product. You must determine the company’s long-term vision. How complex is the problem you’re solving? What tools, resources and skills do you need to achieve this? What are the short- and long-term goals? Each founding member should be able to put that vision at the forefront of everything they do and every decision they make. It’s easier for founding members to navigate conflict when they have a shared sense of purpose—a shared vision for where the company will go and what it will become.
2. Allocate one founder as the ultimate decision maker.
It doesn’t matter if you have two, three or more cofounders. Whenever there’s more than one founding member, you need to establish one person as the ultimate decision maker. This may be the founder who’s the majority stakeholder, but it can also be the CEO or president. Some companies have co-CEOs or co-presidents, but this dynamic may cause more problems than it solves for some founding teams.
No matter how clear your vision or how aligned your team is, there will be disputes. Ideally, you’ll work together to resolve them, but one person needs to hold the authoritative voice in times of conflict. It helps if this person is also responsible for leading the team through operational challenges, industry changes and other unpredictable situations.
3. Set reasonable expectations and responsibilities.
Give each cofounder ownership over a specific aspect of the business, granting them autonomy and decision-making capability. One cofounder may be the designated CEO while another owns the operational side and another manages the legal side.
The more defined the roles, the better, as ambiguity can lead to confusion and chaos. This is especially important in founding teams of more than two members. Each cofounder should have a clearly defined role with set expectations so they know their responsibilities, what aspects of the business they control and what team(s) they will lead as the company grows. This requires a high level of trust that should already exist within your founding team.
4. Evolve and strengthen the relationship as you grow the business.
The dynamic you establish in the first six months won’t be the same in the second or third year. In the early days of a company’s founding, cofounders are often in constant communication, collaborating and brainstorming throughout the day. This relationship has to evolve as the team expands so you can avoid alienating incoming employees, especially senior leaders.
Expand your private Slack channels; invite new members to leadership meetings. You can still maintain strong relationships amongst your founding team, but make adjustments to your practices, communication and work styles so you can promote a culture of inclusivity and empower incoming team members to be active contributors.
Even if the company significantly changes, the founding team remains the same, which is why you want to build a cohesive, respectful and collaborative dynamic as early as possible. Most founders want to make meaningful contributions, but no one can do everything. Recognize the value in each member and be deliberate in how you interact and communicate with each other. No matter how many decisions you disagree on (and there will be many), remember that you’re all on the same team.
For cofounding teams to build intentionally and with purpose, each founder must be treated with respect. Even if someone isn’t the ultimate decision maker, they should still be given the space and opportunity to share their opinion or viewpoint. Cofounders are investors. They often make sacrifices to invest financially, professionally and personally, and as a result, they have a shared stake in the successes and failures of the company. Recognizing and celebrating the individuality of your founding team’s members will foster a more mission-based company while helping ensure that everyone feels empowered and valued.